Graduate Field Handbook

A Guide to a Graduate Studies in the field of  History of Art, Archeology, and Visual Studies

These guidelines supplement, but do not supplant, The Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty

Table of Contents

  • Field System Learning Environment
  • Field Overview
  • Field Orientation
  • Funding
  • Graduate Study Milestones
  • Special Committee
  • Faculty/Student Mutual Expectations for Advising/Mentoring
  • Field-Based Mentoring Program
  • Coursework
  • Language Requirements
  • Student Progress Report
  • Field Exam Schedule
  • Student Learning Outcome Expectations
  • Field-Specific Academic Activities and Resources
  • Professional Development
  • Field-Based Student Organization

Cornell’s Ph.D. program is field based.

While anchored in a department, the field incorporates a much broader range of faculty and experts drawn from the University to create and provide a better integrated learning environment for graduate students. For example, the departmental name is History of Art and Visual Studies, while the field name is History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies. However, students are strongly encouraged to explore beyond the field to form the best Special Committee for their educational needs.

Field Overview

The PhD program in History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies at Cornell is renowned for its global scope and critical engagement with methodology. Small graduate student cohorts enable productive collaborations between students and faculty, while guaranteed five-year funding provides students with a secure financial environment in which to conduct research and learning. In addition to conducting groundbreaking research, graduate students participate in organizing the Visual Culture Colloquium, and annual graduate student symposium, and gain valuable experience as teaching assistants; many also lead their own writing seminars. Our alums draw on their experiences at Cornell to reshape art history as practiced both in universities and museums, and among the broader society beyond institutional walls.

Field Orientation

The academic year begins with an orientation organized for the incoming cohort wherein students are provided with essential program guidelines and advised about best practices by the Director of Graduate Studies. The meeting usually takes place during the first week of classes. 


Field Guaranteed Funding

All graduate students in the Field of History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies are admitted with five years of guaranteed support, including tuition, health insurance, and an annual stipend, in addition to a summer stipend for the first four summers. The fourth- and fifth-year funding is contingent upon the student’s successful passing of the A-Exam.

Two years of this support (ordinarily the first and the fifth) is the Sage Fellowship provided by the Graduate School. Funding for the other three years is in the form of Teaching Assistantships. Teaching Assistantships include assisting with an undergraduate course. The nature of Teaching Assistantships is determined by the lead professor; in some cases, the Teaching Assistant will lead discussion sections.

Applicants with guaranteed outside funding will be considered as additional admissions to the field, based on qualifications. 

Additional Funding Opportunities

Selected advanced students may be offered the opportunity to teach the First-Year Writing Seminar under the auspices of Cornell's First-Year Writing Seminar Program. This would be a course designed by the student according to their field of interest and specialty, with the express purpose of honing participating freshmen’s writing skills in art history, archeology, and visual studies. Such special opportunities at Cornell are particularly rewarding and useful preparation for future jobs.

Other student funding sources include research, travel, and conference funding from the Graduate School and the History of Art and Visual Studies Department. The department offers two grants for professional development: Goldring Grant (download accessible PDF application form) and Conference Travel Grant (download accessible PDF application form). Application deadlines for both are semester-based: October 1 (Fall) and April 15 (Spring).

Funding for foreign language study can come from the Graduate School for summer funding and the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS) from the Einaudi Center for International Studies, which also supports dissertation research travel. See Other programs at Cornell, as well as Cornell’s Diversity Fellowship, may also assist with research and travel funds. Students’ committee members will advise on these possibilities. 

Students in our program are required to apply for outside fellowships for dissertation research and writing. In recent years our graduate students have been extremely successful with Fulbright, Metropolitan Museum, Smithsonian Institutions, Harvard Art Museums, ACLS (American Council of Learned Societies), and AAUW (American Association of University Women), among other fellowships.

Graduate Study Milestones

  • For 1st summer funding: successfully fulfilled first-year academic requirements, and academic plan for summer academic activities and outcomes submitted by May 1.
  • For 2nd summer funding: full committee assembled by end of the third semester, and academic plan for summer academic activities submitted by May 1.
  • For 3rd summer funding: passed A-exam before the start of the 7th semester, or A-exam scheduled for the 3rd summer, and academic plan for summer academic activities submitted May 1.
  • For 4th summer funding: passed A-exam and application submitted describing dissertation research progress completed in the 3rd summer and academic objectives for incoming year by the end of semester.
  • Dissertation year fellowship: applications for an external fellowship have been submitted within the first four years. The dissertation year fellowship may not be used later than the 12th semester (6th year), unless external funding has been secured in a prior year.

(The Graduate School permits students to petition for deadline extensions with valid reasons, but extensions may not ensure summer funding.)

Special Committee

Students select their Special Committee of three members and work with the committee members to tailor their own program, reflecting their intellectual objectives. In the first year, students select a Committee Chair, who must be a member of the Field of History of Art, Archaeology and Visual Studies. By the end of the third semester, students will have chosen the remaining two members, who may be drawn from the graduate faculty at large, although we recommend that one additional member be from the field. This Special Committee system results in a flexible graduate education tailored to each individual student. Cornell faculty encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the student's selected major field.

The student can request a change of advisor by filling out the Special Committee Selection and Change form, which is available at the Graduate School web site:

Faculty/Student Mutual Expectations for Advising/Mentoring

In addition to excellence in scholarly achievement, we emphasize collegiality and mutual uplifting to form a harmonious learning environment. We also uphold the highest standards in academic ethics and moral conduct. Students have ample resources to voice their concerns on campus. See this link to learn more about Title IX reporting and grievances:

Field-Based Mentoring Program

All first-year doctoral students in the field are required to take the Graduate Research Methods Seminar in their first year of study, wherein students are introduced to each department faculty, their areas of study, and methodologies.

We encourage students to work closely with their Committee Chairs and other members to ensure a successful study at Cornell.


Students must take at least 12 courses for a letter grade, plus four semesters of TA-ships, or 14 courses for a grade for those with a FLAS or other fellowship in addition to the Sage. Students must consult their Committee Chair about required courses in their area, particularly in the first two years where these courses have to be completed before the A-Exam.

1st year – Each semester students must take four courses: three for a letter grade, including two seminars, in addition to the Graduate Methods seminar in the fall semester; the fourth course may be at any level, or a language, and may be taken S/U or Audit.

All graduate students who do not enter the program with a BA or MA in History of Art must take the Proseminar at the graduate level, ARTH 6101 Proseminar: Introduction to Methods. Any student needing this background may take the Proseminar as well.

For courses taken S/U or Audit, students need to confer with the professor on what these grades entail in terms of participation in the course. Some professors will allow the S/U with all required coursework and a shorter research paper. Others require all the same coursework as a letter grade. An Audit involves at the minimum attendance at all classes, and possibly additional class participation.

2nd year – Each semester, three courses plus a TAship: two courses for a letter grade, including at least one seminar; the third course may be at any level and may be taken S/U or Audit. Those with a fellowship, such as FLAS, instead of a TAship must take an additional course for a grade.

3rd year— At least two courses for a letter grade distributed over the year, and a TAship.

The first to third summers should be spent filling in any necessary language training, background reading for A-exams, and conducting preliminary research toward a dissertation topic.

The minimum residence requirement is two years.

Language Requirement

All Ph.D. students in the Field of History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies are required to have sufficient language skills for their area(s) of expertise. By the beginning of the third year, students must give evidence of being able to read two languages (other than English) essential to their area of research. Students will either pass a language exam in the appropriate department, with the result submitted to the DGS, or demonstrate proficiency through coursework above the introductory level. It is recommended that the student take one language exam or advanced coursework in each of the first two years of residence. For languages that involve learning a new writing system, if reading fluency has not been fully attained, the student’s advisor will submit to the DGS a status report and a detailed plan for the student to attain fluency before beginning fieldwork. A student will not be permitted to advance to candidacy without completion of the language requirement.

Required Training

The Field of History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies requires a minimum of 12 courses for a letter grade in the first three years, including the Graduate Methods Seminar.

Additional Field requirements include 1) demonstrated proficiency in two foreign languages, 2) participation, while in residence, in the Visual Culture Colloquium and the graduate student symposium, and 3) gaining excellent teaching skills.

The program has no core curriculum and no distribution requirements. Students work with special committee chairs to ensure the best study program and experience for Ph.D. students.

Incompletes are strongly discouraged and should be made up in the break following that semester, or during the subsequent semester.

Student Progress Review

Each spring semester doctoral students in the Field of History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies are required to file their Student Progress Review no later than March 15.  Only the first-year doctoral students are exempt.

The Student Progress Review (SPR) supports regular communication including written feedback between students and their advisors, requiring research degree students and their Special Committee to have at least one formal conversation each year about academic progress, accomplishments, and plans. Students complete a form describing milestones completed, accomplishments, challenges and plans. The Special Committee chair responds in writing and indicates whether the student’s progress is excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement, or is unsatisfactory.

Field Exam Schedule

The Field exam is divided into two stages. The A-exam refers to the Ph.D. candidacy qualification exam (which must be completed by the end of the third year/summer), while the B-exam refers to the final dissertation defense. A successful B-exam qualifies a student to receive a Ph.D. degree.

The A-exam has a written and an oral component, both designed by the student’s committee to determine the student’s admission to Ph.D. candidacy. No later than the fourth semester, the student must request a meeting with the entire Special Committee together to declare the major and minor fields and to discuss the format and content of the examination.

Before scheduling the A-exam, students are required to complete all coursework (i.e. no incompletes), and demonstrate proficiency in two languages in addition to English.

A-exam essays must be distributed to the Special Committee at least two weeks before the oral examination. The oral exam consists of questions and discussion based on the written essays. To be eligible for the third summer funding from the Graduate School, students must have passed the A-exam before the end of their third year or have scheduled the exam for the third summer.

The B exam is an oral defense of the dissertation conducted by all members of the students’ Special Committee. A Ph.D. candidate must consult with the Special Committee throughout the writing process. Under no circumstances should a student submit an entire dissertation to a Special Committee without having been advised on individual chapters by the same committee. Students are expected to make all the corrections recommended by the Special Committee before the B exam. Additional corrections will be required after the defense.

After final revisions to the dissertation, it must be submitted to the Graduation Manager (see within 60 days of the Final Examination.

All graduate students must be aware that all the work done in preparation for the Ph.D. “shall be freely available for evaluation and inspection by any interested member of the Graduate Faculty” (Code of Legislation, p. 19.)

Student Learning Outcome Expectations

  • Mastery of research methods and languages appropriate to the area, and ability to produce original results.
  • In-depth knowledge of major area of expertise, as well as ability to think and dialogue with the scholarly community across areas of the discipline and other disciplines.
  • Effective teaching skills, including appropriate level of presenting material, evaluating student work in primarily essay assignments, and mentoring undergraduates.
  • Written and oral communication skills, including appropriate professional and ethical behavior.
  • Learning to work within deadlines: completing milestones on schedule, avoiding incompletes. No A-Exam may be scheduled with incomplete(s).
  • Complete the degree in no more than 7 years.

Field-Specific Academic Activities and Resources

The field sponsors the Visual Culture Colloquium, which, in collaboration with faculty, is organized by the second-year Ph.D. student cohort in the field. In addition, the third-year student cohort organizes the graduate student symposium. All residential graduate students are required to attend all lectures organized by the department, including VCC, Pulse, and Findley lecture series.

Students are also strongly encouraged to participate in one of many interdisciplinary groups in theory, medieval studies, the Renaissance colloquium, the East Asia Program, the Southeast Asia program, the South Asia Program, and others. Students interested in the history of architecture and urban development may want to consider the Field of Architecture.

Included below are also links to digital/visual resources/collections at the Johnson Museum of Art and Olin Library:

Professional Development

The field offers professional development workshops ranging from CV writing and publication to grant and job application letter-writing. The DGS will consider the needs of Ph.D. students in organizing additional workshops.

Field-Based Student Organization

Cornell’s Ph.D. students are actively engaged in many aspects of academic life on campus and elsewhere. Ph.D. students in the History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies form the organization Cornell HART (email: to join), and representatives from this organization participate in faculty meetings. We encourage our students to engage in university-wide student activities.